Wednesday, December 9, 2009
About a month ago, I was very excited to learn of our comparably generous allocation of Cantillon "Lou Pepe" Kriek and "Fou-Foune" apricot lambic. Apparently, it was so generous to have seriously irked a few accounts in the Bay Area who did not get any of these, but that's another story....
I bought two bottles of each, one to drink now and another to stash away for a few years. Yes, fellow oenophiles, beer too can be cellared, increasing in complexity, changing in texture, and generally evolving in ways similar to how well-made wine will after some bottle age. I don't know this from personal experience so much as I do from anecdotal accounts from beer drinkers and brewers.
A quick primer on Cantillon. They are the kings of lambic style beers, the traditional, spontaneously fermented, oak aged Belgian sour beer, as well as the benchmark producers of geuze, a blend of lambics of varying ages, usually 1, 2 and 3 years old. According to their brewer, Jean-Pierre Van Roy, the geuze beers improve in bottle for up to two decades - amazing! I'd love to try an older example. Though drinking the unusual combination of acidity, fizz, and brettanomyces influenced savor in a current bottling of Cantillon Geuze is arguably (depends on who you ask, sour beer is divisive) a wonderful tasting experience.
In addition to their famed geuze beers, Cantillon produces fruit lambics from fresh fruit that is thrown into the fermenting sour beer. They do so with raspberries (Rosé de Gambrinus); Merlot grapes from St. Emilion (St. Lamvinus), and as it relates to this post, cherries for the "Lou Pepe" Kriek and apricots for the "Fou-foune." Lou Pepe pours a beautiful, cranberry color, and shows intense, youthful cherry fruit to balance out the tart lambic notes. In fact, there is a really fresh cherry character here that almost brings to mind a lighter Alpine red wine. Other Krieks I have had show cherry fruit that is tasty but nearly overshadowed by the sour lambic. Upon further review, the "Lou Pepe" fruit lambics are brewed with 50% more fruit than Cantillon's (and other breweries) typical lambics. They are also aged in old Bordeaux barrels which are being used for beer for the first time, likely another cause of the vinous quality of these brews. Fou-Foune was bright, crisp, tangy and ethereal. Just the right level of tartness, complemented by subtle fresh apricot flavors. A real treat.
If you're not familiar with Cantillon, then I suggest you try one of their beers. Check out some more terrific info on this Belgian treasure on the importer's website. Other names to look out for in the world of geuze and lambic beers would include Girardin, Hansen's, De Ranke (who makes a killer Kriek) and Drie Fonteinen. Prepare yourself for a delicious, sour experience.